Environmental Toxins & Endocrine Imbalances
The endocrine system is a complex combination of glands, hormones and receptor sites that are distributed throughout the body.
The glands that are involved directly in hormonal regulation are the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, and ovaries. The adrenals, pancreas, and pineal, on the other hand, have an indirect impact through a complicated, negative feedback network.
Each gland produces one or more hormones and relies on feedback from other glands to maintain balance. As the body's chemical messengers, hormones transfer information and instructions from one set of cells to another. Many different hormones move through the bloodstream, but each type of hormone controls and transmits messages to specifically targeted cells.
Because the body is continually striving for balance, the excessively prolonged elevation of one gland can cause the prolonged depression of another gland.
How toxins affect overall health
As you all know, the world we live in exposes our bodies to many harmful toxins. Whether or not you smoke or drink alcohol, you will be exposed to toxins and you don't have any real control over it.
Women’s glandular systems are alarms for these environmental toxins. The receptor sites, which are designed to be extremely sensitive to tiny amounts of hormones, are also susceptible to environmental poisons. Pesticides, herbicides, petrochemicals, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), phthalates, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), dioxins, and heavy metals bind to the receptor sites and cause overstimulation, resulting in mixed signals to the controlling glands.
When the controlling glands are continually receiving mixed signals and trying to maintain balance, an imbalance eventually occurs. Each of these environmental toxins is also a powerful oxidant which can damage tissues and create excessive inflammation.
It's estimated that over one billion tonnes of pesticides and herbicides are sprayed in the US each year. There are no official figures for Australia. Only 25% of spray from a crop duster ever hits the crops... Most fertile farming lands border vast waterways, such as the Murray Darling where millions access their drinking water. Pesticides not designed for human use - like those utilised in cotton farming - are regularly sprayed in this region.
Over 70,000 new synthetic chemicals were developed in the 20th century. All these chemicals find their way into our air, water, and food on a regular basis. These chemicals are making society unwell, with only two percent having been tested for potential toxicity, mutagenic, carcinogenic, or birth defects.
There is now a specific group of chemicals that have been deemed endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs mimic or partly mimic naturally occurring hormones in the body like oestrogens (the female sex hormone), androgens (the male sex hormone), and thyroid hormones, potentially producing overstimulation. Nowadays there are over 85,000 manufactured chemicals, thousands of which may be EDCs. These EDCs can be found not only in the food we eat and the water we drink but also in the air we breathe and absorb through our skin.
EDCs and women's health
Women, in particular, are extremely sensitive to EDCs. Early puberty development among young girls and the high degree of hormonal imbalance in women are examples of the effects of these chemicals. There is a theory stating that a woman’s menstrual bleeding is a form of eliminating toxins from the pelvic region.
The theory is that the pelvic area remains relatively free from toxins to ensure the cleanest possible environment for the fetus during pregnancy. As our environment becomes increasingly toxic, and our lifestyles unhealthy, women now experience heavier and more painful menstrual periods in an attempt to eliminate these toxins. Similar to when the liver and bowels are not working efficiently, there is also a higher load of toxins to be eliminated.
Not only does this affect the reproductive cycle and hormone balance – this chemical exposure is also linked to ailments such as Alzheimer’s, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, arthritis, depression, obesity, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, multiple sclerosis, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.
What can we do to minimize the exposure to these toxic chemicals?
Here are my top 10 tips:
- Reduce intake of pesticide-sprayed foods. By eating organically you avoid hormones and antibiotics! Conventional meats and dairy products are the highest-risk foods for contamination by harmful substances. Unfortunately, the majority of these chemicals are not all impacted by heat when cooking.
- When it comes to beauty – go natural! It is estimated that the average female grooming/makeup routine exposes women to over 500 different synthetic chemicals. Read labels and avoid products containing phthalates. Choose products labelled Phthalate-Free, BPA-Free, and Paraben-Free. Avoid fragrances and opt for cosmetics labelled 'no synthetic fragrance' and 'scented only with essential oils'.
- Steer clear of plastics. There are particular chemicals in plastics (they’re called xenohormones) that affect the endocrine system function. If you microwave foods or store hot liquids, using plastic food containers is a BIG no-no as the heat can leach chemicals into your food. Use glass, porcelain, or stainless-steel containers when possible, especially for hot food and drinks. Replace older non-stick pans with newer ceramic-coated pans.
- Prepare more meals at home and emphasize fresh ingredients. Creating your own organic garden at home is the perfect way to get in that much-desired biophilia.
Consider using a water filter. Drinking filtered water helps to maintain balance in your body and also maximizes internal organ functions. Drinking good-quality filtered water also helps flush out unwanted toxins.
- Switch to natural cleaning products. Do a chemical spring clean in your household and replace with all-natural products. There are many inexpensive eco-friendly brands now available.
- Support your detoxification pathways. When the liver does not metabolize our internal hormones (as well as synthetic hormones), then these hormones recirculate.
- Incorporate gut-healing foods. Healthy bacteria play an essential role in the breakdown of hormones in the bowels, as well as in the production of certain feel-good hormones such as serotonin. When there is poor metabolism due to the bowels not working regularly, hormones are further reabsorbed into the bloodstream.
- Limit your screen time. Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from mobile phones, televisions, transmitters, computers, power lines, WiFi and satellite transmitters can act as hormone scramblers as they disrupt critical hormone messages. EMR affects the hypothalamus, disrupts the whole endocrine system of the body, and lowers melatonin levels (oestrogen balancer). Just by turning off your WiFi at night can assist in improving your sleep by tenfold.
- Incorporate real plants into your home and office. Indoor plants are considered highly efficient in oxygen production and air purification. They assist in reducing levels of carbon dioxide, certain pollutants such as benzene and nitrogen dioxide, and airborne dust. Plants also help in getting your daily dose of biophilia when you are stuck at home or in the office.
If you follow all these guidelines, it should help minimise the risks associated with endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), and therefore help towards reducing your hormonal symptoms.